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Birth Local’s last stand nets one ‘no’ vote on finalizing hospital financing

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As WMH President Floyd Heater, flanked by two Valley Health officials listens, ‘Birth Local’ co-founder Melanie Salins reiterates criticism of perceived profit over community health criteria for new hospital plan. Photos/Roger Bianchini

On Monday evening, June 11, by a 3-1 vote, two absent, the Front Royal Town Council made it a clean sweep of the municipal support necessary to enable a $60-million bond issue to help finance construction of a new Warren Memorial Hospital.

However, with two councilmen absent (Morrison and Gillespie) and one Valley Health employee (Meza) having recused himself from past re-zoning votes to facilitate construction of a new Valley Health hospital in Front Royal, it appeared the scheduled council vote endorsing the bond issue through the local Economic Development Authority might not achieve a voting quorum.

But shortly after “Birth Local” co-founder Melanie Salins congratulated Meza on his past recusals while criticizing a trio of EDA board members (Llewellyn, Baker and Pattison) for not recusing themselves despite their membership on a hospital advisory board, Meza pulled a rabbit – I mean his vote – out of his hat (well, he didn’t have a hat, that is just a magic act metaphor).

On Feb. 28, ‘Birth Local’ supporters made their case against closing the community’s birthing, OB-GYN unit at WMH. That Valley Health decision went into effect with the May 1 closing of the existing hospital’s maternity unit.

Meza explained that it was the opinion of town legal staff that as long as he disclosed his Valley Health employment ties that since what was being voted on did not directly impact hospital operations, but rather the legitimacy of the bond issue through the Front Royal-Warren County EDA, he could legally vote on the matter.  Meza elaborated that despite his employment ties to the parent company of the hospital he believed he could vote “fairly and objectively”.

That vote was “yes” in endorsing a resolution of support of the “up to $60-million” bond issue, bringing the margin to 3-1 for approval of the financing through the EDA bond issue.  Joining Meza in the “yes” column were Vice-Mayor Eugene Tewalt and Councilman William Sealock.

John Connolly drew applause from “Birth Local” opponents of Valley Health’s decision not to include a birthing, OB-GYN unit in the hospital when he said, “I will not give my endorsement to a downgrade of our hospital services.”

Steven Schlesinger’s negative portrayal of Valley Health’s decision-making process on what units will be included in the new hospital even got grins from a certain county administrator and if I’m not mistaken, two Valley Health officials.

That perceived downgrading revolves around the ongoing lack of resolution on some sort of a compromise to maintain OB-GYN birthing services in the county pending Valley Health’s potential decision to add them to their new facility at some indeterminate future point.  Valley Health points to low birthing numbers at the existing WMH – about 330 a year – and the decision of a number of county women to already go to its Winchester Medical Center or points east for their decision to not include a birthing unit in the new hospital plan.  They stress there will be room to add a birthing unit once the numbers justify it.

Four people spoke during the public concerns portion of the meeting urging council to take this last opportunity to delay what amounts to final approval of the estimated $97-million hospital construction project.  That project envisions a three-story, 175,000 square-foot, 36-bed private room “general acute care hospital” on a 150-acre campus, just south of Warren County Middle School on Leach Run Parkway.

What it doesn’t envision is a birthing unit, and according to “Birth Local” co-founder Salins,  an Intensive Care Unit either.  Salins was the first of the “Birth Local” contingent to speak, and the first of four to continue to increasingly portray Valley Health as a somewhat callous bottom line above public health concerns “non-profit” entity.

Perhaps the most colorful negative portrayal came from Steven Schlesinger, who observed, “I have been billed by Valley Health – I know loan sharks who are nicer.”

Others criticism were just as scathing.

Valley Health critics Melanie Salins and Amber Poe Morris chat with Valley Health employee/Councilman Jacob Meza following Monday’s meeting.

Pointing to a recent premature birth crisis situation and estimating the number of those averaged per year locally, Salins asked of what is already a community without a birthing center after Valley Health’s May 1 closing of the existing hospital’s maternity ward, “How long before the luck runs out and there is a loss of life?”

Lifelong community resident Amber Poe Morris acknowledged a request for an interview by a metro-area TV station in the wake of a 2011 emergency Caesarian delivery at Warren Memorial Hospital due to a high statistical number of birth-related health issues there.

As for promised “good faith” negotiations on a compromise solution, perhaps involving a third party provider, Katie Kerns said that Valley Health officials, “did not listen to any of our concerns – even mocking them.”

If town officials claimed they were locked in by state law to approve the rezoning, no such legal claim was put forth for the bond approval, Salins pointed out – “This is your chance, you can vote this down, you can delay this vote … and send a message that your priority is with the safety of this community and not with their profits.”

But in the end it was the specter of a less than perfect future hospital with room to add services at an indeterminate future point that prevailed over the potential of driving Valley Health and a new hospital away.

And for some reason, first the town attorney, at the instruction of the mayor at the meeting’s outset, then Councilman Sealock prior to the vote explained at some length what had already been widely reported in the local media – that neither the town or county government, nor their EDA through which the bond will be issued, are liable in any way for repayment or funding of the bond.

Prior to the hospital bond fireworks, FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis, Major Nicewarner and Captains Ryman and  Cline welcomed new Officer Travis Lehman to the force. Lehman was officially ‘badged’ by his fiancé.

As Royal Examiner reported of County and EDA bond counsel Dan Siegel’s explanation prior to the June 1 EDA board vote of approval, which was reiterated by county officials before the board of supervisors’ vote of approval on June 5, “neither the county or town governments, nor their EDA are accepting any financial obligation for repayment of the bond; nor would they incur any penalty were the bond not to be issued ‘for any reason’…”

And as stressed prior to the EDA vote, the hospital as borrower will also pay a fee of $240,000 to the EDA upon issuance of the bond, as well as cover any EDA costs associated to the bond issue.  However, one website comment to Royal Examiner’s story on the earlier approvals from  retired certified public account Kenneth Johnson  wondered at how that fee measures up against the amount of money Valley Health stands to save by way of the municipally-assisted bond issue.

No one addressed that question or those numbers on Monday night.

Jenspiration

The MORE Program presents a video in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Photo and video by MORE students and Jennifer Avery, Jenspirations. Behind the scenes as the MORE Program students gather to film the next portion of their MLK video.

On Wednesdays, the MORE Program students work on their video and photography skills. Some students have shown natural talent in the director position, some as a manager organizing behind the scenes. There are students who love to ask interview questions and prompt thoughts, and others who love to be on camera.

Jennifer Avery, Jenspiration LLC helps students edit video footage on Movie Maker to prepare for the final product.

This week our project was to organize and present a video on Martin Luther King, Jr. Grab a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy this 6 minute presentation on MLK. The students organized, directed, and filmed it all!

Some famous MLK quotes the students included:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Resource

The MORE Program provides afternoon care to middle school students in Warren County. We provide healthy snacks, reinforce skills required for academic success, and provide hands-on enrichment activities that teach important lessons about future employment, health, and wellness. We provide all of this at no cost to parents, thanks to state and federal grants, the Warren Coalition, and Warren County Public Schools.

Jennifer Avery, Jenspiration LLC
540-683-0790 | www.jenspirations.com
1. Behind the scenes as the MORE Program students gather to film the next portion of their MLK video.
2. Jennifer Avery, Jenspiration LLC helps students edit video footage on Movie Maker to prepare for the final product.

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Skyline High School’s Environmental Science, Ecology, and Green Team is taking on another Action Project

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Conservation Greetings!

We are learning to be compassionate, global-minded, Earth stewards in Environmental Science, Ecology, and Green Team at Skyline High School. That means, taking what we learn about in class and using it to better the world. One of our Action Projects is to help clean up our waterways… from narrow streams that flow into the Shenandoah River, to the Potomac River, to the Chesapeake Bay, and on into the Atlantic Ocean. We have been horrified to see pictures of aquatic organisms suffering and dying after consuming and becoming entangled in plastics. How sad it is to learn that soon our oceans will have more plastic particles in them than fish!

Please help us change this! We want to raise awareness in a meaningful and ethical way through a “Buy One, Give One” fundraiser. We are selling cotton, organic, fair trade, reusable grocery bags along with an autographed copy of one of Ellie Jackson’s storybooks, “Duffy’s Lucky Escape!,” “Nelson’s Dangerous Dive,” or “Marli’s Tangled Tale.” Each story is based on the true story of a sea animal who has suffered because of human waste. Our goal is to not only bring awareness through the selling of the products, but also to educate our Warren County Kindergartners (almost 400) by “giving” one bag/book combo to each of them at an educational assembly that SHS students will present. We want to educate the children about the benefits to people and the Earth of using “organic,” “fair trade,” and “reusable” products. We hope the gifts and education will help motivate them and their families to carry it forward.


“Buy One, Give One”
Pick 1 Bag & Pick 1 Book = $35.00

CLICK HERE to download and fill out the order form. Drop off or mail the form to Kara Lewallen at Skyline High School. You can also contact Kara with any questions you may have by emailing klewallen@wcps.k12.va.us or calling (540) 631-0366.


If you do not feel you can buy a bag and book, there are other ways to help…

  1. Reduce your plastic use.
  2. Recycle the recyclable plastics.
  3. Vote at the grocery store by choosing biodegradable packaging when possible.
  4. Educate others for the good of our Earth.

A tremendous THANK YOU to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative ($500), Walmart ($1,000), Gallant International, and Ellie Jackson for helping us make a positive difference!

With love for Earth and Organisms,
SHS Environmental Science, Ecology, & Green Team

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Iwo Jima, the iconic battle and legacy

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Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, USMC, staff photographer for "Leatherneck" magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. First Iwo Jima Flag Raising. Small flag carried ashore by the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines is planted atop Mount Suribachi at 1020, 23 February 1945 This picture is usually captioned as: 1st Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier with Platoon Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas, Jr. (both seated), PFC James Michels (in foreground with carbine), Sergeant Henry O. Hansen (standing, wearing soft cap), Corporal Charles W. Lindberg (standing, extreme right), on Mount Suribachi at the first flag raising. However, PFC Raymond Jacobs disputed these identifications,[1] and asserted that it should be: PFC James Robeson (lower left corner; not visible in this cropped version of the photo), Lieutenant Harold Schrier (sitting behind his legs), PFC Raymond Jacobs (carrying radio), Sergeant Henry Hansen (cloth cap), unknown (lower hand on pole), Sergeant Ernest Thomas (back to camera), Phm2c John Bradley (helmet above Thomas), PFC James Michels (with carbine), Cpl Charles Lindberg (above Michels).

On Wednesday, January 16th at 2:15 pm, Randolph-Macon Academy hosted a free presentation entitled, “Iwo Jima, the iconic battle and legacy,” presented by Shayne Jarosz.

In addition to serving as the Director of Special Events for the Iwo Jima Association of America, Inc., Jarosz is a Marine Corps veteran and taught history for 28 years in Fairfax County. In his current position, he provides military historical tours to battlefield sites around the world, including Guadalcanal, Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima, Korea and Vietnam. Jarosz’s presentation on Iwo Jima took place in Melton Memorial Gymnasium on the R-MA campus.

For more information, visit the Iwo Jima Association of America’s website.

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Why is my electric bill so high?

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Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Front Royal Town Manager Joe Waltz spoke today (January 17th) with Mike McCool, Publisher of the Royal Examiner about the very question.

See related story.

Background:

The Department of Energy Services provides electrical services for almost 8,000 customers in the Town of Front Royal and Warren County. The Town has been providing this service for over 123 years while providing the best reliable service in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Town of Front Royal is one of sixteen municipal electric systems in Virginia and is one of over 2,000 municipal-owned systems in the United States. The Energy Resource Department is a self supported enterprise fund, with their total costs for operation derived through the electric rate structure.

The Town is also actively participating in both Federal and State legislation to maintain the safest, most reliable and economical cost available for our customers to keep rates low. They are active members in the following organizations:

Municipal Electric Power Association of Virginia (MEPAV). http://www.mepav.org/
American Municipal Power – Ohio (AMP-Ohio). http://www.amppartners.org/home
American Public Power Association (APPA). https://www.publicpower.org/
ElectriCities. https://www.electricities.com/
International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA). https://www.imsasafety.org/

The operation of an electrical system is a twenty-four hour, 365 day a year job. The Town of Front Royal Electric Department strives to keep your lights on and your power outages to a minimum. Even during the worst conditions be assured that your friends and neighbors at the Energy Services Department will be working hard to restore your power.

Their mission is to provide the best quality power and customer service while keeping the price low and service interruptions to a minimum. If you have suggestions or questions, please do not hesitate to contact them.

Online contact form.

1101 Manassas Avenue
Front RoyalVA 22630
Phone: 540-635-3027
Fax: 540-631-3620
Monday – Friday
7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
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Citizens speak out about high electric bills

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Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

On January 14, 2019,  Front Royal Town Council held a public hearing to amend Front Royal Municipal Town Code Chapter 70 pertaining to Electricity to bring it up-to-date and consistent with other areas of the Town Code, as presented. Several citizen spoke to the the Council about their utility bills and why their electric bills are so high.

See related story here.

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Local News

Pedestrian struck near Rural King in Front Royal

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FRONT ROYAL – A pedestrian was struck by a pickup truck Tuesday afternoon in front of Rural King Front Royal Police say.

According to a press release from the office of Chief Kahle Magalis, a call came in around 3 p.m. regarding a pedestrian struck in front of the retail store, located at 465 South Street in the Royal Plaza Shopping Center.

Responding officers found the pedestrian, Jeffrey Richardson, 40, of Reliance, lying in the parking lot.  The release states that “it was determined that Richardson was struck by a 2011 Ford F-150 operated by Thomas Clark, 83, of Front Royal.”

Clark stated to officers that his foot had slipped off the brake while going over a speed bump and his foot made contact with the accelerator, which caused him to accidentally strike Richardson.

Richardson was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital and then transferred to Winchester Medical Centers Trauma Unit for observation.

No charges have been placed against the driver at this time.

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